[The hero/narrator/spy is on a flight to Rome]
Fatso was back in his own seat; my cardigan had fallen to the floor over my brief-case. I sat down quickly, strapped in. I could see the Railway Junction now and as we levelled off for the approach the G glued me to the seat springs. I could see the south side of the perimeter as we came in, and beyond the bright yellow Shell Aviation bowsers I noticed a twin-engined shoulder wing Grumman S2F-3. It was painted white and the word ‘NAVY’ was written in square black letters aft of the American insignia.
The tyres touched tarmac. I leaped forward to pick up my mohair cardigan. As I did so I flipped Fatso’s wallet well under his seat. Now I saw the clean knife cut along the back of my new briefcase – still unopened. Not one of those long, amateur sorts of cuts, but a small, professional, ‘poultry-cleaning’ one. Just enough to investigate the contents. I leaned back. Fatso offered me a peppermint. ‘Do as the Romans do,’ he went on, eyes smiling through the cracked lens.
observations: Mohair cardigan - not sure about that? He’s not quite the dapper guy you think… and he also, contrary to what many people have confidently asserted, does not cook anything more than sandwiches or coffee in this book. He buys a few ingredients, he eats lavish meals and he shows a great interest in food, but he Does Not Cook, he does not seduce women with food, make an omelette for a girlfriend, choose button mushrooms.
I am fascinated by the currency this idea has - I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian books blog on food and recipes in books, and friends told me he cooked, the Radio 4 Food Programme told me he cooked, and a number of online commenters absolutely assured me he cooked. But he doesn’t. Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine in the film, does, but the unnamed narrator (and the one thing we know about him is that his name is NOT Harry) does not. The idea has a life of its own now. There are cocktail recipes and a method for cooking lobster (baste frequently with a mixture of champagne and butter), and there is an unusual use for golden syrup from the police canteen – useful in staging a break-in, a method that used to appear on TV crime programmes a lot. Haven’t heard of it for years.
The picture is, obviously, a knitting pattern of the era – the cigarette does look right.